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Jewish World Review Feb. 26, 1999/ 10 Adar, 5759

Paul Greenberg

Paul Greenberg King Richard's revenge

(JWR) --- (http://www.jewishworldreview.com) YES, IT SURVIVED WATERGATE and was even strengthened by that presidential scandal.

Yes, it survived Oliver North's games during Iran-Contra.

Yes, it even survived Lawrence Walsh's abuse of it during the long, long vendetta he conducted against political figures he didn't like.

Like Caspar Weinberger, the secretary of defense who presided over the great build-up of American defenses during the Reagan Years. (Which preceded, not by coincidence, the great collapse of the Soviet Union.)

But like so many American institutions, including the now-muddied presidency itself, the office of independent counsel may never be the same after the Clinton Scandals. If the office survives at all.

The notion of an independent counsel able to investigate even the highest officials in the land began to lose its appeal to the country's politically and academically elite, once a Democratic president fell under suspicion. There is such a thing as being too darned independent.

Anyway, what's the use of having an independent counsel statute if the attorney general won't appoint one? Which is why the great campaign finance scandal of 1996 goes uninvestigated by anyone who could be taken seriously. Janet Reno's myopic Justice Department certainly can't be. Oh, it's willing to investigate, all right -- investigate the independent counsel! Can you imagine the fun John Mitchell could have had investigating Archibald Cox or Leon Jaworski? But back then, that kind of conflict was seen as a conflict.

Things change. Just as administrations and moods do. Now those who supported independent prosecutors when they were being sicced on Republican administrations have grown weary of seeing them used and used and used on this Democratic one.

And it does get wearisome seeing how many scandals this bunch can whip up. At last count, not one, but two Cabinet secretaries, Interior and Treasury, have been cited for contempt of court in the same long-running case. Which must be something of a record.

But independent investigations have become a bore. To quote the president of the American Bar Association, which used to be all for independent investigations: "The ABA has been a parent of the independent counsel law going back to Watergate.'' But things have changed, or at least presidents have. And now the ABA's president says of the law that set up the independent counsel: "I do not think it served the purpose it was designed to serve.''

At its midwinter meeting. the bar association voted 349-49 to do away with independent counsels "in any form.'' The post-Watergate morality is definitely dead, deader than impeachment.

What happens if Congress now does away with even the possibility of independent investigations?

Any such inquiries in the future would be left to a president's own Justice Department. Eagle-eyed enforcers of the law like Janet Reno, our own Ms. Magoo, would handle things. Or maybe just drop them at a certain delicate point, as she did the investigation of the campaign finance scandal. It halted abruptly at the door to the White House.

In a system that celebrates equal justice before the law, some turn out to be more equal than others. At last Plato's old question -- who will guard the guardians? -- now has an answer: Nobody. Or rather, our leaders will guard themselves, which is pretty much the same thing.

The counsel Janet Reno picked to advise her on Chinagate and the rest of the campaign finance mess -- Charles La Bella -- made the mistake of recommending an independent counsel. So it is no surprise that he is now leaving the Justice Department. If the American Bar Association has its way, the office of independent counsel would go, too.

Those of us who think our public servants need watching, even and especially at the highest levels, will be able to contain our grief. Since the law establishing independent counsels has fallen into disuse even before its repeal.

To quote Theodore B. Olson, the Olson of Morrison v. Olson who unsuccessfully challenged the system of independent counsels years ago: "There will be those who say that without an independent counsel law, the president or his subordinates could escape responsibility for criminal conduct and subversion of the law. We have now seen that an independent counsel law can do very little to prevent that from happening.'' There's no arguing with that.

No law is strong enough to withstand public opinion, and the public's attitude toward the Clinton Scandals can be summed up as: Ho Hum and Let's Move Along.

If only another president had enjoyed this same economy and the poll ratings that go with it, he might have served out his term without a hitch. Instead he had to go. It may be a posthumous victory, but somewhere Richard Nixon is smiling.


2/25/99:Open season on the fetus, and a good word for the pagans
2/23/99: It never ends: Here comes the judge
2/19/99: After the storm: Going through the debris
2/17/99:Where's the closure?
2/12/99: Hussein the Hashemite: The wiliest player on the board
2/09/99: The social security game
2/04/99: Our own Inspector Clouseau
2/01/99: Night scene, night thoughts
1/28/99: The decay of the art of lying
1/26/99:Impeachment: Short subjects
1/22/99:Bounce, glitz and tedium: The State of the Disunion
1/20/99: Destructive engagement: How to encourage tyranny
1/18/99: Martin Luther King: The radical as conservative?
1/11/99: Why America is apathetic about Bill's date with destiny
1/06/99:The year of Moronica
1/04/99:Clinton’s janitorial crew of two
12/29/98:The Senate will be on trial, too
12/29/98:A look down the avenue
12/22/98: The surreal impeachment
12/17/98: Another moment of truth approaches
12/15/98: The President's defenders: witnesses for the prosecution
12/10/98:The latest miracle cure: CensurePlus
12/03/98: Sentences at an airport Sentences at an airport
12/03/98: Games lawyers play
12/01/98: Ms. Magoo strikes again, or: Janet Reno and the law
11/26/98: The most American holiday
11/23/98: Same game, another round
11/18/98: Guide to the perplexed
11/09/98: A vote for apathy
11/03/98: Global village goes Clintonesque
11/02/98: Farewell to all that
10/30/98: New budget, same swollen government
10/26/98: Of life on the old plantation -- and death in the Middle East
10/22/98: Starr Wars (CONT'D)
10/19/98:Another retreat: weakness invites aggression
10/16/98: Profile in courage
10/14/98: A new voice out of Arkansas
10/09/98: Gerald Ford, Mr. Fix-It?
10/07/98: Impeachment Journal: Dept. of Doublespeak
10/01/98: The new tradition
9/25/98: Mr. President, PLEASE don't resign
9/23/98: The demolition of meaning
9/18/98: So help us G-d; The nature of the crisis
9/17/98: First impressions: on reading the Starr Report
9/15/98: George Wallace: All the South in one man
9/10/98: Here comes the judge
9/07/98: Toward impeachment
9/03/98: The politics of impeachment
9/01/98: The eagle can still soar
8/28/98: Boris Yeltsin's mind: a riddle pickled in an enigma
8/26/98: Clinton agonistes, or: Twisting in the wind
8/25/98: The rise of the English murder
8/24/98: Confess and attack: Slick comes semi-clean
8/19/98: Little Rock perspectives
8/14/98: Department of deja vu
8/12/98: The French would understand
8/10/98: A fable: The Rat in the Corner
8/07/98: Welcome to the roaring 90s
8/06/98: No surprises dept. -- promotion denied
8/03/98: Quotes of and for the week: take your pick
7/29/98: A subpoena for the president:
so what else is new?
7/27/98: Forget about Bubba, it's time to investigate Reno
7/23/98: Ghosts on the roof, 1998
7/21/98: The new elegance
7/16/98: In defense of manners
7/13/98: Another day, another delay: what's missing from the scandal news
7/9/98:The language-wars continue
7/7/98:The new Detente
7/2/98: Bubba in Beijing: history does occur twice
6/30/98: Hurry back, Mr. President -- to freedom
6/24/98: When Clinton follows Quayle's lead
6/22/98: Independence Day, 2002
6/18/98: Adventures in poli-speke

©1998, Los Angeles Times Syndicate